Monday 26 May 2008

Anne Tyler: Line and Length

I've just finished reading an Anne Tyler - The Amateur Marriage. It was the first I'd read in a few years, having slightly overdosed on her, and I am very glad I picked it up. Nick Hornby has called Tyler 'the best line-and-length novelist in the world' (this, I should explain for American readers, is a cricketing term which applies to bowlers who reliably land the ball close to the batsman and in line with the stumps) - and she does indeed have the solid, reliable virtues that so many of today's novelists woefully lack. All those virtues are evident in The Amateur Marriage. Her characters come alive in a way few writers manage - yes, they are drawn from a repertory company that gets replayed with variations, but each of them is someone you would know if you met them on the street. In the old phrase, they 'walk off the page'. Her psychological insights are often startlingly acute. She creates, with minimal fuss, an entirely credible world around her characters and deftly manages a narrative that is essentially driven by who they are. The Amateur Marriage works by particularly clever and subtle manipulation of point of view, across a series of vignettes that cover six decades.
Tyler is, as John Updike once said, 'not just good, but wickedly good'. Her masterpiece, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, is surely up there with the greats, but she is probably underrated because her subject matter is too close to 'ordinary' people's experience, her books are too popular, and she works in a disciplined way on a narrow canvas (but so did Jane Austen). Oh and she does write rather too much - but The Amateur Marriage is not one to be missed. I'm glad I came back to her.


  1. Thanks for the tip, Nige. Like you, it has been a few years since I read something by Tyler. It seems to me the most important of the reasons your list for her being underrated is that "her books are too popular."

  2. Congrats on the new blog, Nige. I hope it brings you endless pleasure, as I'm sure it will to your readers.

    I have read quite a few Tyler novels but, like yourself, not for some time. I associate her books with holidays, as I usually found myself reading her while lying on a beach somewhere. As I haven't been within an asses roar of a beach since my first child came along about 4 years ago, I haven't read her since some time before then. Your post captures very well her appeal. I seem to recall caring about her characters and really wanting to know what happened next in their messy lives. Milan Kudera and Anne Tyler - I have only ever read them on holiday. Odd. I don't know why.

    The Amateur Marriage - what a great title. Sounds perfect for me. I might not wait for my next holiday.

  3. I always seem to end up reading Saul Bellow on holiday - but there's hardly a title left now...

  4. Yay, you figured it out, Nige! I can post a comment now. I'm so excited I forgot what I wanted to say about Anne Tyler....

  5. Thank you for your article, pretty worthwhile material.